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A shot heard round the world



Published: Sun, August 4, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)




"There is a statutory presumption that you should go to prison. In light of your conduct -- and the court will make the finding that you have not demonstrated by any clear and convincing evidence that you are not likely to pose a danger to any person in the community or not likely to flee.

"In light of this conduct, no bond pending appeal is appropriate in your case. So we're going to ask you now to go and serve your sentence, and I am going to remand you to the custody of the United States marshal."

Ka-boom!

Those words will forever cause James A. Traficant Jr. to wince, because the moment they hit him, he knew it was all over. And the fact that it was a grandmotherly judge with a kind smile and quiet voice who pulled the trigger, in a manner of speaking, will keep Traficant awake at nights.

His response to Judge Lesley Brooks Wells' remand order belied his disrespectful, boorish behavior during much of the sentencing hearing Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Cleveland.

"Your honor, might I ask for time, a reasonable period of time to report?" asked the felon -- he was found guilty of 10 federal criminal charges, including racketeering, bribery and tax evasion -- and expelled congressman. Your honor? Might I ask? This from the man who had accused her of judicial misconduct and had attempted to bully her throughout his 10-week criminal trial?

Just an act

To her credit, Judge Wells was not taken in by his act of meekness -- emphasis on the word act.

"No, you're remanded now, sir," she said. "This honorable court is adjourned."

Ka-boom!

Traficant was immediately booked into Summit County jail pending assignment to a federal penitentiary. That is where he will spend the next eight years as a common criminal -- if the voters of the new 17th Congressional District glean inspiration from Judge Wells' words and say to him, "We are going to remand you to the dustbin of political history."

The former nine-term congressman and sheriff of Mahoning County is running as an independent in the November general election and has said that victory is within his grasp. He must be proved wrong.

"You're looking at an American that may be elected from a prison cell because the people back home know I have been railroaded," he told members of the House of Representatives just before they voted 420-1 to expel him for numerous violations of the rules of official conduct. And while the statement prompted chuckles on Capitol Hill, it resonated in the Mahoning Valley. Why? Because when it comes to Traficant, a great many voters still look upon him as a hero.

While it is true that the new 17th District is somewhat different from the current 17th, which Traficant had represented since 1985, it still encompasses almost all of Trumbull County and a part of Mahoning County. It also takes in portions of Portage and Stark counties. That is why it would be foolhardy for anyone to shrug off what he said in Washington.

Just two years ago, Traficant won re-election -- despite the threat of a federal criminal trial hanging over his head. He even acknowledged on the campaign trail that he expected to be indicted in the new year. His opponents, both in the Democratic primary and the general election, attempted to frame the race in terms of "good vs. evil." State Sen. Robert Hagan, D-Youngstown, and Mahoning County Auditor George Tablack, who challenged Traficant for the Democratic nomination, urged the party faithful to consider the ramifications of re-electing a congressman who would have to spend most of his time defending himself in court. The voters did -- and gave Traficant the win.

Big spender

In the November general election, developer Randy Walter, a Democrat running as an independent, spent $300,000 of his own money to deliver the same message -- and Traficant won a ninth term.

How, then, can this pox on the Mahoning Valley be stopped in November? By the three other candidates in the race, Democrat Tim Ryan, Republican Ann Womer Benjamin and independent Warren Davis, showing some courage. They should sponsor billboards that feature Traficant -- minus his hairpiece -- behind prison bars and the words of Judge Wells prominently displayed: "I am going to remand you to the custody of the United States marshal."

Do Ryan, Womer Benjamin and Davis have the guts to take on this criminal in such an aggressive manner? He's betting they don't.




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